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Hype in the Hauptstadt: Collecting signatures at midnight in Berlin

Hype in the Hauptstadt: Collecting signatures at midnight in Berlin


Crawling pubs on a Friday night in Prenzlauer Berg, one of Berlin’s hip districts, chatting up guys in bars that have as special names as “Zu mir oder zu Dir” (“to me or to you”) and getting their autographs. This is not the latest marketing idea to line up men and women in Germany’s capital renown for having too many singles. This is what you do when gathering signatures for the “Energietisch” (“energy table”), Berlin’s current citizens’ initiative.

The initiative aims at giving back the power grid to Berlin’s citizens by making it a public good and providing renewable energy. Currently, Vattenfall provides the network and it supplies most of the power in Berlin, which means that profits go into the pockets of the Swedish company. Berlin’s energy sector was privatised in the late 1990s. The current lease will run out at the end of 2014. The year 2013 therefore is the time to make use of the “Volksbegehren”, the tool of direct democracy at federal level in the Land of Berlin. It stipulates that seven per cent of Berlin’s eligible citizens must sign the law proposal to be handed over to Berlin’s parliament. This are actually 173,000 signatures but the proclaimed goal are 200,000 as ten per cent of signatures tend to be invalid. 

The initiative, which is backed by an alliance of about 50 local groups, had organised a political camp to run from 10 until 29 May 2013. Hosted in an old school in the North-East of Berlin the camp invites people from everywhere to take part in the campaign. I arrived on Friday, the camp’s very first day, where I met Michael Efler. He is one of the main people behind the “Energietisch”. He had just convinced Martin Sonneborn – a well-known German satirist - to sign the citizens’ initiative. Michael was happy but eager to gather many more signatures. That is why he announced to go out in Prenzlauer Berg at night. 

Having heard so much about Prenzlauer Berg it was no question for me to join. The district was a cell of the 1989 democratic revolution in the former East of Berlin. Run down and with affordable rents after the fall of the wall, the district was more and more gentrified and it is bohemian now. Daniel Lentfer, a democracy activist from Hamburg who was successful in the Hanseatic city with the Transparenzgesetz and Jorge, a Spaniard living in Berlin and volunteer in the political camp, were up to the pub crawl also. 

The reactions were mostly positive. I did not have to engage in a lot of controversy. Mentioning the name of the Swedish energy company often was enough to make sign the people on a night out. Some asked curious questions about how all the energy could be provided by green energy only. Others wanted to know about the consequences of their signature, being cautious that their data might be misused. And then of course there were men and women who declined. 
After two hours of pub crawling we sat down for a cocktail in “Himalaya”. Collecting 200,000 signatures feels like climbing high mountains. Three days have shown me this. Never before I have walked around that much. Never before I have talked to so many people: People I was surprised about that they are politically interested. People who have foreign roots but speak perfect German. People I would be sure they would sign but they didn’t. Collecting signatures in Berlin meant revising my perceptions of people. 

I am pressing my fingers tight that Michael Efler and all the activists in Berlin will make it. As of today, four more weeks remain to collect the about 100,000 signatures that are still needed. The deadline is 10 June 2013.

Do you want to help? Go to Berlin, a part of your travel costs will be reimbursed and there is free lodging. Join the democracy hype in the Hauptstadt. It will make you feel good.  

Further information: 

- Berliner Energietisch at www.berliner-energietisch.net

- by Michael Efler at efler[at]berliner-energietisch.net

Text by Cora Pfafferott



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